It has only been a week since I officially made my move from Nashville, Tenn., to attend Towson University near Baltimore, Md. I honestly didn't know what to expect. As the days went by, I decided to write little random "facts" that I learned about Towson through my astute and very scientific observations, like the fact that the football players here can, and do, double as models on corner-store windows, and the fact that people expect me to have a heavy Southern accent.
While carrying out this trivial game that I concocted, I learned that racial issues here are just as big a deal, if not a bigger deal, than in the South. It sometimes makes me wonder why racism is only expected and pointed out in the South, despite the fact that slavery was equally an issue in Maryland, a consistently Union state. Not only that, but white-supremacist organizations have long called the North, just as much as the South, home.
Later on in the week, I started to learn about the queer scene on and around campus. I was pleasantly surprised to hear a variety of music when I went to a local gay bar. It was a refreshing change from the "yes-you've-got-to-be-on-some-serious-mess-to-dance-to-that" music I was used to hearing in gay clubs. The crowd was just as diverse as the music, consisting of people of all colors, genders, shapes, and sizes dancing and having a good time. I long for the day when all queer spaces, North or South, will adequately accommodate everyone.
Probably the most anxious moment of my queer experience was my first meeting at a queer function on Towson's campus. As an undergraduate I became very jaded toward the queer community on my campus. I was sure I would feel the same disdain at Towson, but I decided to give this organization a try.
The meeting was fantastic. Unlike most queer organizations, there were individuals who actually understood what privilege was and brought that up as a talking point to be discussed in future meetings. When the issue of Question 6 (Maryland's ballot referendum that would ask voters to approve or reject the recently passed law that would legalize same-sex marriage in the state) came up, a straight ally understood the concern but suggested that we also focus on other queer issues besides marriage equality, like housing issues and other forms of discrimination. In my experience, this is simply unheard of. Some individuals suggested that we talk about intersectionality, issues dealing with people of color, and even issues dealing with immigration, like the DREAM Act. At that moment, it was official: My life had turned into my Tumblr dashboard. I got to be around a large group of people -- queer people -- in real life who actually cared about things that pertain to other groups of marginalized people.
I feel that Southern queers could learn a thing or two about understanding the privilege that many of them enjoy. Working on other issues that aren't necessarily "gay issues" may actually help to bridge whatever perceived divides there are between people of color and white gay folks. I say "white gay folks" because they are the members of the queer community most likely to be unaware of and refuse to examine their privilege. A greater focus on how intersectionality affects people of color who identify in the LGBT spectrum would benefit queer organizations all over the country, and I don't see it happening often enough. This newfound motivation to create a stronger allyship could even help with building bridges in other communities to create a stronger influence locally, and also to combat bad bills in the political arena. Coming from Tennessee, the state of the "don't say gay" and "bathroom" bills, I can understand why some queer folks in the South want to just forget all that and focus on fun and trivial little things, but that doesn't mean the problem goes away. It only creates a community that is self-absorbed, introverted, and set in their ways to the point where any criticism or self-examination of that introversion is seen as an attack on a personal level or simply deemed "too political."
One thing this week has taught me is that I refuse to be pushed toward the margins. I'm going for full-fledged sinner.
Follow Brandon Thomas on Twitter: www.twitter.com/baxtertennyson